BANGOR (AP) – More than 25 copper thefts have been reported this year to the state Public Utilities Commission, which warns that such activity is not only illegal but also very dangerous.

Copper thieves are putting their lives “at extreme risk,” said PUC Chairman Kurt Adams, who reiterated a warning Thursday at a news conference at a Central Maine Power Co. substation in Westbrook.

“We’ve had enough close calls to make us anxious,” said Adams. “There are few places that are more dangerous to be in without experience than a substation.”

The losses from thefts reported this year to the PUC add up to at least $32,000, including associated labor costs for repairs. While most copper wire thefts occur at power substations, copper piping has also been stolen from abandoned homes and buildings.

Dozens of arrests have been made around the state, the PUC says. Copper thefts have resulted in deaths in other states as well as the neighboring Canadian province of New Brunswick, where a man was electrocuted in May after he broke into a substation and tried to cut a heavy-gauge copper ground wire.

Perimeter fencing can become electrified at power company sites, but there’s no way for people to tell if that wire is energized, warned Susan Faloon, spokeswoman for Bangor Hydro-Electric Co.

The utility lost an estimated $500,000 in labor and material replacement costs as a result of a break-in at a power plant last spring.

In Augusta last week, a theft from a substation last weekend involved $6,000 worth of copper wiring, PUC spokesman Fred Bever said.

Copper is attractive to thieves, who sell it for between $3 and $4 per pound, sometimes in the form of grounding equipment or entire reels of the metal.

The PUC has joined utilities and police in an effort to keep closer track of thefts and security at utility sites. Adams asked that suspicious activity at electric facilities be reported to police.


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